When they arrived back in Seattle, it was raining. They landed in the late morning, at a private airfield a short distance out of town where Kestrel had made arrangements. Gabriel settled up with the pilot while Kestrel and Winterhawk waited inside, and then they were on their way in another rented car. “Do you want to go home first?” Gabriel asked Winterhawk as they left the airfield and merged into the tail end of the morning rush hour.
“I suppose I should,” the mage said a bit reluctantly. He’d had a chance to sleep (albeit fitfully) on the plane, but he was feeling rather like a terrorist with the night’s growth of stubble and a rumpled suit. “Do we have time?”
“We can call Harry from there,” Kestrel assured him.
Gabriel nodded. “I hope he’s come up with something. I don’t want to use magic to look for them, but if he can’t find them, we might have no other choice.”
“Don’t underestimate Harry,” ‘Hawk said. “He might not use magic, but I’d wager a large amount of money on his ability to locate any given person faster than almost anyone else I know.”
“That is what I’m counting on,” Gabriel said.
Winterhawk’s Downtown apartment was just as he had left it, except for a thin layer of dust on the furniture; while he went off to shower, shave, and change into a fresh suit, Gabriel took care of calling Harry. By the time ‘Hawk reappeared looking refreshed and somewhat happier with life, they had a meeting set up for later that afternoon at one of Harry’s favorite places to hold court—the Black Dog Lounge. “Did he have anything useful for us?” the mage asked as he buttoned up his jacket and straightened his tie. He was still looking more than a little pale, and it was obvious to everyone in the room that he was using his usual briskness to cover up the fact that he was still very disturbed by what had happened to him.
“He wouldn’t tell me until we met in person,” Gabriel told him. “But he was willing to meet in an hour, so I suspect he does.”
‘Hawk was looking out the window. “It doesn’t take an hour to get to the Black Dog,” he said. “D’you mind if we just pop by ‘Wraith’s place? I very much doubt that he’s around, but—”
“That’s a good idea,” Kestrel agreed, looking at Gabriel.
The young man nodded. “Why not?”
They got together in the rented car again (none of their own cars were big enough to accommodate more than two people, and the team’s usual truck wasn’t available) and drove by ShadoWraith’s place, which was only five minutes away from Winterhawk’s. They didn’t know what they expected to find, but whatever it was, they didn’t find it. A quick clairvoyance spell by Gabriel confirmed that the place was uninhabited, locked up tight as if its occupant expected to be gone for a long time. “That fits,” Winterhawk mused as they drove away. “If he was planning to head back East, he’d have all his traps set. At least he’ll be pleased to know no one’s tried to break in.”
“How do you know that?” Kestrel asked.
“No dead bodies on the floor.”
She regarded him for a moment and decided not to ask.
The Black Dog Lounge was fairly unpopulated this early in the day; most of its usual clientele didn’t show up until after dark, and even the afternoon bar crowd didn’t often turn up until after the day-shifters got off work. This left the place currently occupied by a couple of orks drinking beer in the back corner, a frowzy-looking human couple having a boozy tête-a-tête at one of the booths, and a dwarf reading a datafax at the far end of the bar. The bartender, also a dwarf, was sitting atop a high stool, picking peanut shells out of his beard and keeping one eye on the trid unit suspended from the ceiling. The strains of a familiar soap-opera theme song emanated from the trid’s buzzy speaker, fighting a losing battle with the synth-pop being piped in from above.
The bartender looked up as the three newcomers came in. Recognizing Winterhawk, he hooked a thumb toward the back room without a word. ‘Hawk nodded and the three of them continued through, ignoring the muttered lewd comment the female half of the frowzy human couple made at Gabriel as they passed.
It was obvious from the moment they entered the back room that Harry was concerned about something. He was even more no-bullshit than usual. “‘Hawk. Good to see ya,” he said, nodding. He looked at Gabriel. “Guess you found him. Should I ask any more?”
Winterhawk shook his head. “Better if you didn’t.”
“What did you find out?” Gabriel asked. He did not sit down, but rather moved restlessly around the table where Harry sat. ‘Hawk and Kestrel likewise did not sit.
Harry took a deep breath. “I haven’t found anything on Joe or ‘Wraith yet. I think ‘Wraith’s gonna be the hard one—it’ll take me longer to call in favors to get the info.” He paused. “But I did find Ocelot. I wanted to talk to you about this, but one way or another one of us is gonna have to move fast.”
Gabriel stopped his restless motion and leaned over the table. “Where is he?”
“L.A. He’s in jail.”
“What?” Winterhawk and Kestrel demanded almost simultaneously, taking up positions on either side of Gabriel. “What the bloody hell is he doing in Los Angeles?” ‘Hawk demanded. “I thought he was in San Francisco.”
“That’s why it took me this long to find out anything,” Harry said. “I was checkin’ in San Fran. But when nothing turned up there, I ranged out some. Apparently he was in San Francisco briefly two or three weeks ago, but somethin’ spooked him and he took off outta there. I’ve traced his movement down CalFree—looks like when he left he made a beeline toward L.A. Didn’t stop long anywhere on the way.”
“What’s in Los Angeles?” Kestrel asked, perplexed. She looked at Winterhawk. “He doesn’t even know anybody down there, does he?”
‘Hawk shook his head, as confused as she was.
Gabriel, on the other hand, looked at them oddly, then at Harry. “He doesn’t know anyone down there...perhaps that is the reason he went there.”
Harry shrugged. “I dunno. All I know is the reports I got say he was actin’ weird. He didn’t contact anybody in San Francisco, and the guys who saw him said it seemed to them like he was scared of his own shadow—’cept if anybody messed with him they got hit hard. That’s how he got picked up in L.A.—Report says assault and resisting arrest. He was in the middle of some kinda riot near the El Infierno wall. He sliced up some troll and then tried to run.”
Kestrel sighed, shaking her head.
“Did you get anything else?” Gabriel asked quietly. So far he seemed to be the only one of his little group who was taking this news with any amount of calm.
“Yeah.” The fixer looked up at him. “From the sound of things—realize I’m getting this secondhand, ‘cause the actual police records’ll take longer—he was living on the street. The one eyewitness my guys were able to get anything from said he was like one of those guys who wander the streets talking to themselves.” His gaze hardened. “This is bad stuff, kid. If somebody’s causin’ this, I want to know about it. When somebody starts screwin’ with my team, it gets to be my business fast.”
Gabriel sighed. “You’re right—it is bad. But we can’t tell you any more than that right now.”
“You don’t want to hear it,” Winterhawk added soberly, without a trace of humor.
Kestrel nodded in silent agreement.
Harry looked back and forth between the three of them, his eyes finally settling on Gabriel. “Yeah. Maybe you’re right. But one way or another we’re gonna have to deal with this. Are you gonna do it or am I?”
“Which jail is he in?” Kestrel asked suddenly. “And how long has he been there?”
“It ain’t good.” Harry glanced down at his pocket secretary then back up to Kestrel. “He’s in the big Lone Star lockup just outside El Infierno—the one they call The Pit. Been there about four days now. I only found out about it last night—was gonna give you a call today, but you called me first.”
“Damn.” Kestrel dropped into a chair with a loud frustrated sigh. She had heard many stories about The Pit in her days as a runner, and none of them had been good. Los Angeles—especially that part of Los Angeles—was not a good place to get caught when you were doing something illegal. The only thing worse would have been for him to be inside El Infierno itself—but she didn’t think they even had prisons in there. If the natives didn’t kill you, the cops would. Less paperwork that way. Still, though, this was far from a desirable situation, and she knew it. “I assume he’s still alive or you wouldn’t be telling us this—but the Star doesn’t look too kindly on people with cyberware.”
Harry nodded. “He’s okay so far—as okay as you can be in a drekhole like that, I mean. They’ve got him in the hardcase wing, where they toss anybody who looks like they might be a troublemaker, including folks with cyber. The Star ain’t quite as quick to yank out people’s mods right away after they got sued by that kid’s family last year, fortunately. But it ain’t gonna last forever. And if he’s as loony as it sounds like he is, it’s only a matter of time before he attacks somebody and the guards kill him. It ain’t a nice place.” He looked at Gabriel. “You want to handle this, or—?”
Gabriel studied him for a moment before answering. “We’d better go down there and get him out,” he finally said. “But if you can arrange it so they don’t do anything permanent to him until we can get there—”
“I’m already on that part,” Harry told him. “Gettin’ him outta there isn’t gonna be easy. I can do it, but I think you might be able to do it faster. Me, I’ll just make sure there’s somebody down there for you to get out. That’s my end.” He sighed. “Give me a call when you get there—I’ll try to get things arranged so you can just waltz right in there and take him out. You might have to grease a few palms—”
“That won’t be a problem,” Gabriel said with a tiny hint of a wry smile.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I imagine not.” He paused a moment, then continued. “I don’t know if I can set that up this fast, but I’ll give it my best shot. When you call I’ll give you the details.” Rubbing the back of his neck wearily, he settled back in his chair and pulled out his phone. “You get going—the sooner you get down there, the sooner the kid’ll be out of there.”
“And you’ll keep looking for the others?” Winterhawk asked as the three of them prepared to leave.
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve got all kinds of feelers out right now—something’s bound to come back soon. Hell, who knows—maybe one of the guys’ll hear I’m lookin’ for him and give me a call, wantin’ to know what all the fuss is about.”
“And I’m the king of England,” ‘Hawk said sourly.
Harry didn’t answer.
Less than an hour later, they were on another small private jet bound for Los Angeles, California Free State. Gabriel, Kestrel and Winterhawk sat oblivious to the plush finery surrounding them, all of them on edge as they thought about what they might be likely to find when they arrived. “What’s it like?” Winterhawk asked suddenly about halfway through the trip.
Kestrel looked at him, confused. “What’s what like?” She looked at Gabriel, but his eyes were closed; he seemed to be either sleeping or, more likely, meditating.
“Jail. Prison. Wherever it is they’ve got him.”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Not nice,” she said at last. “I’ve never actually been inside, but I’ve had friends who have. Once they managed to get out, they never wanted to go back.” She looked at him. “It’s a good thing Ocelot’s tough—I don’t think too many people will want to mess with him. That ought to keep him safe for awhile.” She didn’t add I hope, but Winterhawk heard it nonetheless.
“They do have guards, though, yes?” the mage asked. “Aren’t they supposed to keep order among the prisoners? Make sure they don’t kill each other or something?” His experience with prisons was very limited, and what little he had had been drawn from those in his own native country where things—even prisons—were generally somewhat more civilized.
“Yeah, they have guards,” Kestrel told him rather bitterly. “And that’s what they’re supposed to do. As usual, though, reality’s a little different.”
‘Hawk leaned forward. “Go on...”
She spread her arms. “All I have is what my friends have told me. Most of the guards are on the take, and quite a few of them are working for one or the other of the factions of prisoners—especially if there’s a high gang and organized crime population. They get away with things because they can—who’ll stop them? Nobody cares as long as the prisoners behave themselves and don’t cause too much trouble. I’ve heard stories of guards beating up prisoners...standing by while the prisoners beat up each other...staged fights for their amusement...” She shook her head. “Maybe it’s different where Ocelot is, but I doubt it. Truth be told, it’s probably worse. Are you familiar with El Infierno?”
Winterhawk shook his head. “Other than the fact that it’s a bad part of Los Angeles, no, not really.”
“Well, saying it’s a bad part of L.A. is like saying Gabriel’s a big lizard. Kind of the understatement of the year.” She glanced at Gabriel, then back at ‘Hawk. “They walled it off because they couldn’t deal with it anymore. The folks in there are on their own, and it’s just anarchy. This prison isn’t in there, but it’s right on the edge. That means it gets a lot of the cases who get arrested trying to get out of El Infierno. It also means that the cops and the guards who get assigned there are the ones that got last pick for assignments. They have riots there two or three times a year, and they usually end in a few guards and a whole bunch of prisoners getting blown away and the administration shaking their finger at the whole thing and sweeping it under the rug until it happens again.” Kestrel let her breath out again. Telling the story had seemed almost cathartic to her. She sighed. “That’s why we have to get him out of there before somebody kills him. He’s tough, but there’s always somebody tougher. Especially when they don’t separate the metatypes. And with him messed up in the head—”
Gabriel opened his eyes. The expression in them was sad; he’d obviously been listening to the conversation. He shook his head without saying anything.
Winterhawk looked at him. “What is it?”
The young man shook his head again. “Forgive me, but once again I am dismayed by the capacity of some of your people for barbarism.”
Kestrel nodded wordlessly. Right now she didn’t feel in much of a mood to apologize for humankind, meta or otherwise. She wasn’t feeling too charitable toward them herself.
The plane landed at another small private airfield without any trouble and they picked up the rental car that Kestrel had arranged. By now it was late afternoon. As Kestrel drove, Gabriel called Harry to see if he had managed to get anything set up.
“I think I’ve got it taken care of,” the fixer told him. “But you aren’t gonna be able to do it until morning. Not if you want to be anything like subtle about it, anyway. They don’t release prisoners this late in the day. I’ve already got the paperwork started—my deckers are plantin’ a few appropriate records and doctorin’ a few more—so you should be able to just go in there tomorrow and tell ‘em you’re there to pick him up. But that won’t be until nine tomorrow morning. If I were you I’d sit tight until then. It’ll draw less attention.”
Winterhawk leaned over the seat to address Harry. “So we’ve got to leave him in there another night, then?” He didn’t sound too happy about the prospect.
“‘Fraid so.” Harry didn’t sound happy about it either. “If you try to go in today, somebody might get suspicious. With this kind of short notice, the stuff my deckers did might not stand up to that level of scrutiny. I’d play it safe if I were you.”
Gabriel sighed. “Of course. I don’t think any of us like it, but best if we do as you suggest. Thank you, Harry.”
“Yeah, yeah. Call if you run into any snags. Good luck.” Harry disconnected, leaving the three of them to contemplate the unpleasant fact that they would have to cool their heels for almost fifteen hours before they could be reunited with Ocelot.
That left them with an evening to kill, and none of them was in any mood to seek out recreational activities. Gabriel was becoming more introspective, Winterhawk more morose, and Kestrel more stressed as time went on. Finally, after a halfhearted attempt to come up with anything better, they decided to simply check into a hotel and wait out the night.
As Gabriel and Winterhawk sat in the crowded hotel bar waiting for Kestrel, who had decided to go work off some of her excess energy in the complimentary health club, ‘Hawk sighed. “We’re going to need to do this again for Joe and ‘Wraith, aren’t we?”
Gabriel didn’t look at him; he was watching a group of the bar’s other patrons move by. The three Japanese sararimen looked happy and more than a bit tipsy. “I think so,” he said reluctantly at last.
‘Hawk regarded the tall glass of Guinness in front of him, which he had not yet touched. After a pause he asked, “Is there anything...you’re not telling us?” His tone suggested that he couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted an answer.
Gabriel turned his chair around to face the mage. He didn’t reply. He appeared to be deep in thought.
“I don’t know,” the young man said. “I don’t understand it myself. I’ve never seen anything like this before. We—we all saw it die. We all saw Stefan kill it. So...if it is the Enemy—and I am quite sure it is—then it must be something different. Something—else.” He sighed and looked down. “I cannot help but believe that this is my fault somehow. I just hope we are not too late to save the others.”
Winterhawk shook his head. “It might be because of you,” he admitted. “And it might not be. Remember, we dealt with some of these things before we ever met you. P’raps it’s some bit of leftover business from our past, and you’ve just gotten yourself caught in the middle of it.”
“It is possible.” Gabriel didn’t look convinced.
The mage took a sip of his Guinness. For a long moment he was silent, staring down into the deep brown of the liquid as he swirled it around. “Odd...” he commented, almost to himself.
His eyes came up. “I was just remembering something a friend told me back home. She’s an expert at divination. When I was first starting to...experience this, I went to see her, to see if she might be able to shed some light on what was happening to me.” He paused a moment, gathering his thoughts, aware of Gabriel’s intense gaze fixed on him. “She...told me that she sensed conflict in it. As if it were trying to...harm me and warn me at the same time.” He shrugged, meeting Gabriel’s eyes. “I didn’t know what it meant then, and I still don’t. P’raps it means nothing.”
Gabriel sighed, shaking his head. “I don’t know. When I...touched your mind, back at the hospital, I didn’t sense any conflict. Only fear. Something—malevolent. Perhaps the warning was some part of your own mind when it was still in control, trying to keep you safe from it. I did sense that your consciousness was attempting to withdraw, to hide from the influence. That was probably why I was able to bring you back. If your mental discipline had not been strong enough to—” Again he shook his head.
“Let’s hear it for mental discipline,” the mage said a trifle sarcastically. He looked up, realizing the implications of that. “Does that mean—that the others will be more difficult for you to save?”
“I don’t think so.” Gabriel smiled almost mechanically at two pretty young women who were giving him the eye, then looked back at the mage. “You were probably the most difficult, because of your magical abilities. You are by nature more susceptible to astral influence than someone who isn’t magically active. That is one of the reasons why mages are abnormally represented among individuals with severe mental illnesses.”
‘Hawk nodded. He knew all about that. “The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents,” he said in the tone of a quotation.
Gabriel tilted his head in question.
‘Hawk chuckled mirthlessly. “Lovecraft. One of those authors magical types tend to develop an interest in—and probably shouldn’t.” He shrugged. “Seemed apropos.” Again there was a pause, and again he looked up as another revelation struck him. “Gabriel...” he asked slowly, “Are you sure you can handle this? I know you’re far more attuned to the astral plane than I am—if it can even influence someone as strong as you are—”
The young man took a deep breath. “I don’t have a choice, do I?” he asked softly.
Another long pause. “No...I guess you don’t at that.” The thought did nothing for Winterhawk’s already somber mood.
Fortunately, Kestrel picked that moment to enter the bar. She’d obviously already been up to her room—she was dressed in street clothes and her hair was still damp from the shower. The two men stood as she approached. “Was the workout any help?” Gabriel asked.
“Not really. But at least I got rid of some energy.” She looked down at their nearly-untouched drinks. “C’mon. Unless you two want to take the rest of the night to get drunk, let’s go get some dinner and call it a night. The sooner we do, the sooner tomorrow gets here and we can get this over with.”
Her two companions were in full agreement.
No one slept much that night, and no one was surprised. Gabriel’s soft knocks on Winterhawk’s and Kestrel’s doors at 7:00 the next morning found both of them dressed and ready to go. ‘Hawk and Kestrel exchanged slightly sheepish glances at the realization that they had both probably been ready for quite some time, and awake for quite awhile before that.
After a quick breakfast at the hotel coffee shop (none of them was particularly hungry, but Kestrel pointed out that it would probably be several hours at least before they ate again), they set out for the prison. The morning traffic was every bit as hellish as that in Seattle; Gabriel was driving now, and Kestrel was grateful for his inhuman patience. Had she been driving, she would have been chewing the steering wheel by the time they found the proper exit and ventured onto city streets.
It was obvious that something was wrong before they got within six blocks of the prison. As they approached, all three of them became aware that there seemed to be a lot more police vehicles around than would have been normal even for a prison, and traffic had slowed to a grinding crawl. Drawing closer they saw the reason for the crawl: the street was cordoned off and uniformed officers were waving cars back, forcing them to perform awkward U-turns. “Uh-oh...” Kestrel said under her breath. “This doesn’t look good at all.”
Winterhawk leaned forward and switched on the car’s radio. After fiddling with the unfamiliar stations for several seconds he stopped, finger poised to hit the seek button again, as the words “...are advising anyone without business in that area to avoid it until further notice. Lone Star has scheduled a press conference for later this morning, so stay with us. Now back to Bambi McKay with our weather report—” came through the speakers.
‘Hawk switched off the radio. “Bugger. Do you think this has anything to do with our friend?”
“I don’t know.” Gabriel’s expression was grim as he continued to guide the car up to the site of the roadblock. Most of the vehicles in front of them were turning around early, but a few pressed on. Beyond them, an Ares Citymaster rolled by, lights flashing.
As they finally reached the roadblock, one of the two cops made a ‘turn around’ motion at the car. Gabriel pretended not to recognize it and moved forward a bit more until they were near the second cop. He rolled down the window.
“Turn back!” the cop ordered. “You can’t go this way, sir.”
“We’re here to pick up one of the prisoners,” Gabriel said, still feigning innocence. “He’s being released today.”
The cop looked at him like he was crazy and waved back over his shoulder in the direction of the excitement. “Nobody’s pickin’ nobody up today, chummer. Haven’t you been listenin’ to the news? There was a riot last night. The place is in full lockdown!”
Copyright ©1999, 2000 R. King-Nitschke. The Shadowrun universe is the property of FASA Corporation.
No part of this story may be reproduced without permission from the author.